Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Arson attack suspected in Westside One blaze

F Oliva reports

• 16 vehicles destroyed or damaged by fire

Shocked residents of Montagu Gardens were forced to evacuate their homes in the early hours of Tuesday after a huge fire broke out in the underground garage.

The serious incident occurred at around 3am and is suspected to be the action of one or more arsonists.

A second smaller fire was also detected in a letterbox in the foyer of one of the blocks.

Sleeping residents were brusquely woken up by sirens in the dead of night as the City Fire Brigade arrived to the estate.

According to eye-witness reports, there was a strong smell of burning in the air as plumes of black smoke were seen billowing out of the underground garage ventilation shafts at various points around the central courtyard.

Much of the estate was engulfed in thick smoke which made breathing difficult. At least two small explosions were heard in the early stages of the fire.

Families with children most of them in their pyjamas, poured out into the courtyard as the Phase Three blocks were evacuated in an orderly and efficient manner. Fire Brigade officers and policemen went knocking door to door to ensure there was no one was left behind in any of the flats.

The smoke was so dense that people had to move out of the estate and assembled by the roadside to get away from the fumes.

After the initial anxious moments people settled down to wait patiently until the City Fire Brigade finished their job and it was declared safe to go back indoors. Although damage to property has been extensive, fortunately no injuries were reported.

Police suspected foul-play from the outset and the RGP’s Scene of Crime team made an early appearance. Scientific inquiries were conducted by police experts and the investigation continues.

It is understood CCTV footage will be made available to the police. An RGP spokesman said:

“At 02.55 hours of Tuesday April 26th 2005, a report was received by police regarding a fire in the foyer of one of the blocks at Montagu Gardens.

As a result of this report the City Fire Brigade were dispatched to the area and while they were on route a further report was received about a second fire in the underground car park in Phase three Montagu Gardens. Due to the fire at the underground car park a coordinated evacuation was carried out by residents of Phase three Montagu Gardens.

The fire at the foyer of one of the blocks was extinguished almost immediately by the City Fire Brigade and the fire at the car park was extinguished in approximately 45 minutes. Once the area was declared safe the evacuated residents were allowed to return to their respective homes.

As a result of the fire in the car park a total of seven motorcycles have been destroyed and one motorcycle has been extensively damaged, a total of eight cars have been damaged to different degrees.

Two letter boxes, a notice board and some artificial plants were damaged by fire in the foyer of the mentioned block.

Both fires are being treated as arson and an investigation is under way.”

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